World War I: USS Utah (BB-31)

USS Utah (BB-31)
USS Utah (BB-31), 1911. Photograph Courtesy of the US Naval History & Heritage Command

USS Utah (BB-31) - Overview:

  • Nation: United States
  • Type: Battleship
  • Shipyard: New York Shipbuilding, Camden, NJ
  • Laid Down: March 9, 1909
  • Launched: December 23, 1909
  • Commissioned: August 31, 1911
  • Fate: Sunk during the attack on Pearl Harbor

USS Utah (BB-31) - Specifications

  • Displacement: 23,033 tons
  • Length: 521 ft., 8 in.
  • Beam: 88 ft., 3 in.
  • Draft: 28 ft., 3 in
  • Propulsion: Parsons steam turbines turning four propellers
  • Speed: 21 knots
  • Complement: 1,001 men​


  • 10 × 12 in./45 cal. guns
  • 16 × 5 in. guns
  • 2 × 21 in. torpedo tubes​

​USS Utah (BB-31) - Design:

The third type of American dreadnought battleship after the preceding - and classes, the Florida-class was an evolution of these designs.  As with its forerunners, design of the new type was significantly influenced by war games conducted at the US Naval War College.  This was due to the fact that no dreadnought battleships were yet in use when naval architects began their work.  Close to the Delaware-class in arrangement, the new type saw the US Navy switch from vertical triple expansion steam engines to new steam turbines.  This change led to a lengthening of the engine rooms, removal of the after boiler room, and widening of the remainder.  The larger boiler rooms led to an enlargement in the overall beam of the vessels which improved their buoyancy and metacentric height.

The Florida-class retained the fully-enclosed conning towers employed on the Delawares as their effectiveness had been demonstrated at engagements such as the Battle of Tsushima.  Other aspects of the superstructure, such as the funnels and lattice masts, were altered to some degree relative to the earlier design.  Though designers initially desired to arm the ships with eight 14" guns, these weapons were not sufficiently developed and naval architects instead decided to mount ten 12" guns in five twin turrets.  Placement of the turrets followed that of the Delaware-class and saw two situated forward in a superfiring arrangement (one firing over the other) and three aft.  The after turrets were arranged with one in a superfiring position over the other two which were located back-to-back on the deck.  As with the preceding ships, this layout proved problematic in that turret Number 3 could not fire astern if Number 4 was trained forward.  Sixteen 5" guns were arranged in individual casemates as a secondary armament.

Approved by Congress, the Florida-class consisted of two battleships: USS  (BB-30) and USS Utah (BB-31).  Though mostly identical, Florida's design called for the construction of a large, armored bridge which contained space for both directing the ship and fire control.  This proved successful and was utilized on later classes.  Conversely, Utah's superstructure employed a traditional arrangement for these spaces. The contract for building Utah went to New York Shipbuilding in Camden, NJ and work commenced on March 9, 1909.  Building continued over the next nine months and the new dreadnought slid down the ways on December 23, 1909, with Mary A. Spry, daughter of Utah Governor William Spry, serving as sponsor.  Construction progressed over the next two years and on August 31, 1911, Utah enter commissioned with Captain William S. Benson in command.

USS Utah (BB-31) - Early Career:

Departing Philadelphia, Utah spent the fall conducting a shakedown cruise which included calls at Hampton Roads, Florida, Texas, Jamaica, and Cuba.  In March 1912, the battleship joined the Atlantic Fleet and commenced routine maneuvers and drills.  That summer, Utah embarked midshipmen from the US Naval Academy for a summer training cruise.  Operating off the New England coast, the battleship returned to Annapolis in late August.  Having completed this duty, Utah resumed peacetime training operations with the fleet.  These continued until late 1913 when it crossed the Atlantic and embarked on a goodwill tour of Europe and the Mediterranean.

In early 1914, with tensions rising with Mexico, Utah moved to the Gulf of Mexico.  On April 16, the battleship received orders to intercept the German steamer SS Ypiranga which contained an arms shipment for Mexican dictator Victoriano Huerta.  Eluding American warships, the steamer reached Veracruz.  Arriving at the port, UtahFlorida, and additional warships landed seamen and Marines on April 21 and, after a sharp battle, began the US occupation of Veracruz.  After remaining in Mexican waters for the next two months, Utah departed for New York where it entered the yard for an overhaul.  This complete, it rejoined the Atlantic Fleet and spent the next two years in its normal training cycle.

USS Utah (BB-31) - World War I:

With the US entry into World War I in April 1917, Utah moved to the Chesapeake Bay where it spent the next sixteen months training engineers and gunners for the fleet.  In August 1918, the battleship received orders for Ireland and departed for Bantry Bay with Vice Admiral Henry T. Mayo, Commander-in-Chief of the Atlantic Fleet, aboard.  Arriving, Utah became flagship of Rear Admiral Thomas S. Rodgers' Battleship Division 6.  For the final two months of the war, the battleship protected convoys in the Western Approaches with USS Nevada (BB-36) and USS Oklahoma (BB-37). In December, Utah helped escort President Woodrow Wilson, aboard the liner SS George Washington, to Brest, France as he traveled to the peace negotiations at Versailles.

Returning to New York on Christmas Day, Utah remained there through January 1919 before resuming peacetime training with the Atlantic Fleet.  In July 1921, the battleship crossed the Atlantic and made port calls in Portugal and France.  Remaining abroad, it served as flagship of US Navy's presence in Europe until October 1922.  Rejoining Battleship Division 6, Utah took part in Fleet Problem III in early 1924 before embarking General John J. Pershing for a diplomatic tour of South America.  With the conclusion of this mission in March 1925, the battleship conducted a midshipman training cruise that summer before entering Boston Navy Yard for a significant modernization.  This saw its coal-fired boilers replaced with oil-fired ones, the trunking of its two funnels into one, and the removal of the aft cage mast.  

USS Utah (BB-31) - Later Career:

With the completion of the modernization in December 1925, Utah served with the Scouting Fleet.  On November 21, 1928, it again sailed for sailing South America.  Reaching Montevideo, Uruguay, Utah brought on board President-elect Herbert Hoover.  After a brief call at Rio de Janeiro, the battleship returned Hoover home in early 1929.  The following year, the United States signed the London Naval Treaty.  A follow-on to the earlier Washington Naval Treaty, the agreement placed limits on the size of the signatories' fleets.  Under the terms of the treaty, Utah underwent a conversion into an unarmed, radio-controlled target ship.  Replacing USS  (BB-29) in this role, it was re-designated AG-16.  

Recommissioned in April 1932, Utah shifted to San Pedro, CA in June.  Part of Training Force 1, the ship fulfilled its new role for the majority of the 1930s.  During this time, it also took part in Fleet Problem XVI as well as served as a training platform for anti-aircraft gunners.  Returning to the Atlantic in 1939, Utah participated in Fleet Problem XX in January and training with Submarine Squadron 6 later that fall.  Moving back to the Pacific the following year, it arrived at Pearl Harbor on August 1, 1940.  Over the next year it operated between Hawaii and the West Coast as well as served as a bombing target for aircraft from the carriers USS Lexington (CV-2), USS Saratoga (CV-3), and USS Enterprise (CV-6).  

USS Utah (BB-31) - Loss at Pearl Harbor:

Returning to Pearl Harbor in the fall of 1941, it was berthed off Ford Island on December 7 when the Japanese attacked.  Though the enemy focused their efforts on the ships moored along Battleship Row, Utah took a torpedo hit at 8:01 AM.  This was followed by a second which caused the ship to list to port.  During this time, Chief Watertender Peter Tomich remained below decks to ensure that key machinery continued to operate which allowed the majority of the crew to evacuate.  For his actions, he posthumously received the Medal of Honor.  At 8:12 AM, Utah rolled to port and capsized.  Immediately thereafter, its commander, Commander Solomon Isquith, could hear trapped crewmen banging on the hull. Securing torches, he attempted to cut as many men free as possible.

In the attack, Utah suffered 64 killed.  Following the successful righting of Oklahoma, attempts were made to salvage the old ship.  These proved unsuccessful and efforts were abandoned as Utah had no military value.  Formally decommissioned on September 5, 1944, the battleship was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register two months later.  The wreck remains in place at Pearl Harbor and is considered a war grave.  In 1972, a memorial was constructed to recognize the sacrifice of Utah's crew.

Selected Sources:

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Hickman, Kennedy. "World War I: USS Utah (BB-31)." ThoughtCo, Jul. 31, 2021, Hickman, Kennedy. (2021, July 31). World War I: USS Utah (BB-31). Retrieved from Hickman, Kennedy. "World War I: USS Utah (BB-31)." ThoughtCo. (accessed January 31, 2023).